Scott Brinker blogged about propinquity and Twitter last week. I’d never heard the word propinquity before. However, propinquity seems to be a label for a familiar concept — the notion that physical promixity promotes relationships. My parents harped about that while I was a teen. Happily, Scott takes a different tack. He suggests that social media applications such as Twitter may wear down the effects of physical promixity in relationship dynamics. I wonder what kind of effect they will have on relationships with influencers. And how we will measure it.
Today, we use several criteria for measuring influence for our Influencer50 clients. Our metrics include factors such as an influencer’s
- market reach
- frequency of impact
- quality of impact
- closeness to decision
“Closeness to decision” is where propinquity comes into play. We include physical proximity and timing in this metric. So, we already think of closeness to a decision as a measure of more than physical distance.
It’s not hard to envision extending “closeness to decision” with new metrics focused on social media, mobile communications, or both.
Several companies already use Twitter as a way to engage with influencers and customer conversations online. Duncan has written about this development in The Influencer, our free newsletter.
One thing is clear. We haven’t gotten our collective heads around the implications of social media in terms of influence. We’re still caught up in early adopter personalities and tactics.
Sometime soon, we’ll need to stop counting social media links and echoes. We need to start agreeing on what counts as distance and what counts as closeness and what counts as influence.
R “Ray” Wang has posted a synopsis of his role as an industry analyst. Ray is with Forrester Research. His clients include tech buyers and tech providers. As a result, his straightforward summary describes the main roles that many analysts play in the tech industry.
I noticed that Ray doesn’t focus on describing his influence. He doesn’t call out his role as an influencer in the enterprise software market. Instead, he describes how he helps clients and how he creates intellectual property for Forrester through his research, analysis, consulting, and reports.
Many important influencers avoid the “influencer” label. It’s not the way they talk about themselves.
They leave such determinations to people like us here at Influencer50, who identify and score influencers on a market by market, client by client basis.
There’s no magic formula for being a great analyst or a great influencer. Ray’s a great role model for both.
Imagine you’re the marketing lead at a small company and you’re gearing up to launch a product, service, or even the company. One morning, the CEO informs you,
“The marketing budget is now $0, and we will figure out a way to get to market.”
That’s one of 6 things that CEOs of small companies and start-ups should be saying to their employees this year, according to Guy Kawasaki.
Guy’s advice speaks to the heart of what’s been going on in tech marketing lately. We’re seeing some changes in C-level thinking about marketing spend. It’s not the usual knee-jerk reaction to a tech recession, such hacking away at marketing budgets and staffs. It even goes beyond the dreaded zero-based budgeting maneuver.
Company leaders are looking for entirely fresh thinking. They want more effective programs for generating sales leads or reducing cost of sales.
In the article, Guy points directly to using social media to get to market. There’s much merit in that.
I would add that it’s vital to start by identifying the people making and influencing purchase decisions. Then use social media to the extent that it makes sense as a way to engage with them.
Otherwise, you run the risk of using social media as a trendy replacement for traditional mass communications.
And that won’t deliver a good return… not even on a $0 marketing budget.
It’s easy to fall into thinking that focusing on the top 15 or 25 or 100 influencers in a given market is a good idea for every company. That’s not necessarily so, unless you can vet their influence with decision-makers for your product or service in your market.
Mack Collier points out a good example: his experience with the “Pepsi 25″ campaign. Pepsi had targeted Mack and 24 other high profile bloggers with 3 deliveries of cans showing the evolution of the Pepsi logo over 100 years, right up to the latest logo. Most of the 25 bloggers were happy to blog about Pepsi and it’s logo. By contrast, Mack said:
I mean on one hand I appreciated the effort that Pepsi went to in sending these materials to me. Obviously they send the cans and promotional materials to myself and 24 other people because they thought we were ‘influential’ in the social media space, and that we would blog/twitter/podcast about this promotion, and hopefully in a favorable light… Now the problem for me is, I know I’m not influential to Pepsi drinkers, cause I don’t drink Pepsi (Dr Pepper here. Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too?).
He goes on to suggest that his spot in the Pepsi 25 would have been better used on a loyal customer — someone who would have behaved as an evangelist out of love for the Pepsi product. Someone connected to others who also would talk about Pepsi and encourage purchases, and so on.
Pepsi 25 hit a dead-end with Mack.
As Duncan says, it’s not about influence, it’s about influence with the right people.
One group of influencers is about to undergo sweeping change in the U.S.: government agencies and regulators. Government influence varies greatly by industry. Yet it is present to some extent in virtually all industries.
In the book, Influencer Marketing, Nick and Duncan identify three likely roles for government agencies and regulators:
- proclaimers - those who mandate or “proclaim” how the world will be
- aggregators / communicators - information gatherers and disseminators
- negotiators - determining anything from ethics to environmental requirements
It’s easy to see what they mean. Look at the green tech / clean tech markets. These have become a hot spot for government influence. Many governments are encouraging — if not mandating — rapid adoption. They are raising awareness among consumers and businesses. Some governments are pioneering new standards. Still others are funding R&D, manufacturing, professional training, entire industries, and jobs.
Every new administration in the U.S. federal government brings substantive changes throughout the uppermost layers of government. Sooner or later, the changes trickle down to local governments.
Changes in government influence are headed your way. Be ready for it.
Following on the heels of layoffs at Gartner and AMR Research, comes word that Yankee Group and iSuppli also reduced headcount. Yankee Group CEO Emily Nagel discussed the reduction in the company blog. Meanwhile, there is word of a reduction at iSuppli, a firm that just recently acquired Telematics Research Group (TRG). This much consolidation in the tech industry analyst community has implications for analyst relations and influencer programs.
Tech suppliers can react in one of two ways.
The most common reaction is list management. The premise is that you automatically replace one analyst name on your list of influencers with another analyst name. When somebody moves out, you move somebody up.
That’s exactly what the analyst salespeople want tech suppliers — and IT decision makers — to do. Swap one analyst with another. Treat them as interchangeable parts. Transfer your trust, no hesitation.
That strategy would work really well, if analysts were toasters.
The other option is research. This entails pulsing your salesforce and decision-makers and evaluating the overall market segment, to find out how influence is shifting on the ground. The idea is that you think outside the box, and make no assumptions that one analyst is replaced by another analyst out in the marketplace.
You may find that a trusted analyst is being supplanted by a consultant or a thought leader from an IT association. You may find most decision-makers taking a wait-and-see attitude, opting for no immediate adjustments to their circle of advisors.
In the end, trust is not about lists or toasters or interchangeable people. Trust is personal, especially when company or career is on the line.
Short-term, there’s little likelihood that you can uncover every decision where an exiting analyst was advising. Look into the priority transactions in your pipeline; assess and act on those situations on a case by case basis.
For the long haul? My advice is don’t rush to revise your influencer list. Live with the gaps until the dust settles and you can figure out what’s really happening.
Marketers tasked with building online communities learn quickly that size matters. Which would you rather aim for: building one community of 50 members, or 50 communities each with one member?
Odds are good you’ll go for the one larger community. It’s a matter of survival, isn’t it? Your professional reputation, job security, and next quarter’s budget may hang in the balance.
Yet, when you design an influencer program, your focus shifts to the other end of the scale. Your goal becomes building 50 communities of one.
Influencers have their own networking patterns. An influencer program taps into those existing patterns as a way to join the conversation and meet the influencers.
If there’s no opportunity for influencers to converge naturally, an influencer program can step in and create a group. This might take the form of a council, an advisory board, or an exclusive networking dinner held in conjunction with an industry event.
Either way, the group is not the end goal. It’s the individuals within the group that matter.
The goal is building 1-to-1 relationships with influencers in the group, so that they get to know your company and want to talk about it.
In the world of influencers, 50 communities of one will outperform one community of 50 every time.
Some events are so saturated with powerful people discussing powerful ideas that they gain the stature of an uber influencer in their own right. Two of these rare events take place in the western U.S. in the early months of each year: TED and South by Southwest. This year, a 3rd event joins their ranks — and jostles right to the top of the pack. That’s the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States.
This is one presidential inauguration that will carry influence far beyond the Beltway. It will be the Woodstock of American politics, the American answer to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The inauguration celebration, like the man himself, is destined to be a powerful influence. Those who are able to leverage inaugural speaker platforms will reap the benefits for a long time.
What catapults an event like this inauguration, TED or SXSW to the stature of super-influence?
First and foremost is the quality of the event as a speaker platform. That includes the complete speaker line-up and the focus and context of the agenda. It also includes the composition — and disposition — of the audience.
Then there’s the experience of being at the event. The experience exists only in the minds of the actual participants — organizers, staff, performers, audience, media. They in turn stream their experience to people who weren’t there through word of mouth, user-generated content, and paid media coverage.
In the tech industry, we’ve grown accustomed to the rippling influence of TED and SXSW. This year will be a little different. TED 2009 and SXSW 2009 participants will feel the rippling influence of a historic presidential inauguration. I look forward to participants at each event interpreting it, amplifying it and passing it along.
When you think about the people capable of influencing your customers and prospects, take a good long look at your sales channel partners. A channel partner’s sphere of influence can extend far beyond their own customers and territory. Put their influence to work for you by incorporating them into your influencer program.
Success depends largely on choosing the right channel partners. This means curtailing internal politics during the selection process. Likewise, it’s not a popularity contest. Focus on partner attributes that will serve your company well, both out of the gate and over the long run. For example, look for channel partners:
- Aimed at the same core markets and segments as you are
- With an established positive reputation in your core markets
- Willing to invest in their relationship with your company, such as participating in your training and co-marketing programs
- Able to provide reliable customer references
Once you’ve shortlisted the partners, it’s a matter of picking the people within those companies that you want to induct into your influencer program.
Rich Vancil, vice president of IDC’s Executive Advisory Group, blogs a sad prediction: marketing budgets will be cut roughly 15% during the first half of 2009. He also makes an interesting point on the virtues of investing consistently in marketing:
I have believed that good marketing investment policy has elements of a large inertial flywheel: let it stop spinning and the fuel to get it going again costs a lot more than if steady increments had been consistently applied. Vendors should have the wherewithal and courage to keep their investments basically steady.
– Richard Vancil
I’ve seen the same “flywheel” dynamic in influencer relations, as well. Consistently applying effort and attention requires less overall time, energy and funding — and pays greater dividends in the long run.
Check out the blog for marketing management advice on weathering the economic storm.